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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Arketex plant a family affair

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

This 1951 photo was taken at the annual "Family Reunion" of the Arketex Ceramic Corporation. Ish Kabibble, holding the trumpet, a nationally known entertainer who played with the Kay Kyser Orchestra in the 1940s, gives one easy lesson on how to play the horn. The big event attracted a crowd of about 1,800 with 585 employees and their families. Seated, left: Samuel Raybould, committeeman from Local 848 at Plant 2; Ish Kabibble; John H. Stelle, Arketex President and Harvey Morlan, President of Local 527 at Plant 3. Standing, left: John A. Stelle, Vice President of Arketex and Mrs. Kay Kyser, who brought the troupe of prominent entertainers to Brazil. Photo submitted

The Southenders are having their second reunion Sept. 4, starting at 10 a.m. at the Forest Park Pavilion. This year they've invited all former employees of the Arketex Ceramic Corporation and their families to attend because that company influenced the lives of many Southenders.

Arketex Ceramic Corporation, founded by John H. Stelle in 1937, started with three plants. No. 1 was located on south Murphy Ave. Clay was stored there and with a saw mill on the property, they made pallets used to transport their wares. But tile was never produced at that plant and eventually was sold to Ringo Saw Mill.

Plant No. 2, on south Chicago Ave., is well remembered by the Southenders. Reunion organizer Jack Tucker recalls hearing the shift change whistle at 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. every day. Production didn't get under way at Plant No. 2 until September, 1941. But it was short lived because of World War II. Production resumed later, however.

No. 3, the biggest and main plant, was on the west side of north Meridian Street. A forth plant was added later, on the east side of north Meridian Street.

At its peak, in the late 50s and early 60s, Arketex had three plants running with continuous kilns 24 hours a day, employing nearly 1,000 workers who turned out glazed tile in 70 different colors and shades.

Arketex was a family affair. John H. Stelle, known as "The Boss" served as president for many years. When he stepped down as president and became Chairman of the Board, his son John A. Stelle took over as president. Another son Russell T. served as vice president. John H.'s grandson, former Clay County Superior Court Judge John P. Stelle held many jobs in the corporation over the years.

"It played a big part in my life," John P. said. "I remember one thing about it that was always good. The company employed a lot of part-time people in the summer who were able to make enough money to go to college. They really encouraged that."

John P. said he started working for the company when he was 14.

"Anytime I wasn't in school or college, I worked."

He held many different jobs including production, sales and personnel. After graduating from Brazil High School in 1957, John P. attended DePauw University in Greencastle for three years. Thinking he would spend the rest of his working life at Arketex, he left college when his fiancé graduated from DePauw and they married and settled in Brazil.

Several years later, it looked like the company might sell. That's when John P. decided to go to law school. He went to Indiana State University to complete his undergraduate degree in Business and graduated from Indiana University Law School in 1971.

Arketex eventually did change ownership in the late 1960s. It continued production for about 10 more years. Then, sadly, as viewed by the employees, in the 1970s the kiln fires went out and the production line stopped for good. "I think the demise of Arketex was due to the basic costs of materials," John P. said. "And people's architectural choices changed."

He reflected on his late grandfather.

"He was considered a tough old guy, but he was a wonderful grandpa. He was hard to label politically. I'd say he was a conservative liberal," John P. said laughing. Then he turned serious.

"He devoted his public life to making life better for others. He truly believed life should be and could be better. And he was a leader in that area."

While Arketex was synonymous with the Stelle family, the founder's philosophy was that every employee was a member of the Arketex family. Many of the workers enjoyed working under that principle.

Cecil Shobe worked at Arketex about 21 years as an office clerk and foreman at Plants 3 and 4.

"I thought it was a good place to work," Cecil said. "I thought they treated the employees real good. Every summer they had a picnic at Forest Park for all the employees and their families. And they had a Christmas party every year. They gave a present to every child and wife of each employee.

"One summer they chartered a train and took everybody to Terre Haute to see the circus," Cecil continued. "And I think they paid about as much as everybody else in the area at that time. You can't beat that. I enjoyed working there."

Judy Patrick Schrameyer is a daughter of former Arketex employee, the late Lee Patrick. She shared some of her thoughts about the years her dad worked for the company in a letter to Tucker.

"Dad was a loyal employee for most of our childhood..." she wrote. "Arketex was really great to our family. I remember many times going into the plant with Dad and... my cousin Brenda Hughes... and selling Girl Scout cookies (35 cents a box), Christmas cards (50 cents a box) and calendars (25 cents each). We just put them on the conveyor belt and the guys gave us our money as we walked along...

"There were the turkeys and gifts for each family member at Christmas. One of my gifts was a lovely white blouse. Sizes were always right."

These and many more memories will be shared by those who attend the Southender Reunion this Saturday. Folks should bring a chair and plan to stay a while.

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